The Abbotsford Canucks, conveniently located an hour west of the big club in the Fraser Valley, depending on how fast you drive, is ready to rock and roll for season two.
It couldn’t be any more perilous, one can hope and pray, than the inaugural season for the franchise. One that saw the community suffer through catastrophic flooding last November, while the team overcame a rash of injuries and Covid infections to rally and make the Calder Cup playoffs.
After going through a stretch where the club was employing ECHL players on professional try-out contracts mid-season, the club somehow survived to put together a late season run.
“It was my worst fear as a coach and I knew it was coming, we had guys up that were going to finish the year in NHL and we had guys that were injured,” Abbotsford Canucks Head Coach Trent Cull said during a media availability on Monday. “We had to get them back and up and running at top speed in no time at all, so really proud of the guys, thought they had a great run, happy where we were, but disappointed with our finish.”
After going 8-4-and-2 in March and 9-and-2 in the month of April to finish 5th in the Pacific division, the Canucks were bounced in the first round in two games by the rival Bakersfield Condors.
“We were hoping for more, that’s for sure,” Cull added.
Last week, Abbotsford Canucks General Manager and the overall organization’s Senior Director of Player Development Ryan Johnson was more direct in his critique of a few of the players, acknowledging that the team had been forewarned about the emotion and intensity of the postseason.
“I expected more from some of the players who I thought would be able to rise to the occasion and lead, and we were disappointed,” Johnson said.
It will definitely affect what players will return on what should be a veteran club based on the limited number of younger players in development. Meanwhile, the GM and coach were more than pleased with the rest of the staff.
Associate coach Gary Agnew came in with Cull in 2017 when the team was in Utica, New York and continues to handle the penalty kill. He has experience at the AHL level as a head coach and as an assistant in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins for a season-and-a-half. Coincidentally, he was relieved of his duties along with Penguins head coach Mike Johnston in December of 2015 by then Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, the Vancouver Canucks current President of Hockey Operations.
Ahh, that small hockey world.
“I call him ‘Uncle Gary’,” Cull pointed out, “I mean how he deals with the players, his delivery is great, he’s been running our PK, I thought he did a really good job with it, we’ve introduced a lot of young guys, new guys into the PK yearly, and I think it’s always one of those things that’s a work in progress.”
Jeff Ulmer just finished his first year as an assistant coach. A right winger, he was a professional player in North America and abroad from 1999 to 2018. His success rate as the power play coach improved as the season went on.
Curtis Sanford will continue with the goalies and Ian Beckenstein with video.
Despite the playoff loss, one bonus was a chance to get to work with 20-year-old Vancouver Canucks forward Vasily Podkolzin for a couple of playoff games.
“I thought he had a great attitude, I wish we had a chance to see him a little more,” Cull said of ‘Pods’. “It’s not easy coming back (down) from the National Hockey League and playing in the American Hockey League and he hadn’t even played here before. Some of the other guys that come back, it takes them a little while to get up and running too … we had him in all situations, he’s a good hockey player, I don’t think I’ll ever see him down here again, that’s for sure.”
Cull and the entire Abbotsford Canucks coaching staff are under contract for next season and based on what’s been said have the full support of Johnson and Rutherford.